MARCH 2013

27 March  Fans

I average around 4 fan emails a month.  That may not sound like a lot to you high flyers out there, but believe me, in this day and age for someone to write an actual, friendly email and sign off with  his/her real name (as opposed to an internet moniker)  is quite a feat.

This month I received emails from an Englishman who runs a wine club, a doctor from Massachusetts who collects wines, a German man who wanted to know my favorite Amarone producers, an American  who is planning her vacation in Italy and wants tips on wineries to visit, and an Italian woman who has bought one of my books and wants to meet up at Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair, to have me autograph it.  What an eclectic group.

24 March Sur Sur From Donnafugata

I receive samples of a new wine from the Sicilian producer Donnafugata.  The wine is called Sursur and is made from the white indigenous variety, Grillo.  I pull the cork:

2012 SurSur Donnafugata: well saturated straw yellow. An apricot note on the nose, with a sprinkling of graphite.  On the palate the wine is round and satisfying. Tangy fruit fills the mouth. The flavor vibrates through a longish finish.  There is a salinity that I often find in indigenous white varieties from Italy (and Portugal and Spain).  Very nice wine.

 

 

23 March Gian Vittorio Baldi – Rennaisance Man

We went to a showing of some of the works of Gian Vittorio Baldi.  I like Gian Vittorio.  I first met him when we were part of a jury at a video festival.  I won my spot because I am, in a small way, a local celebrity and because I have written and directed TV documentaries.  Gian Vittorio’s credentials for the jury were…well….at lot more valid than mine.  He produced films by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bresson and Goddard. He has written and directed films. He has also written poetry and music….and he is an artist whose works are owned by museums in New York and Paris.

Costa-Gravas (the film director) has bought 20 of these works for a museum,” says Gian Vittorio.  “That’s not bad, is it?”

22 March  More Books – I can’t help myself

Italians do not go in for used things. As a result there are no charity shops on the high street and the few second-hand book shops that exist are to be found in University towns and specialize in old textbooks.

Try for a moment to imagine a world without Oxfam, Salvation Army stores or dusty junk shops crammed with potential treasure. Many of my happiest hours have been spent pawing through cartons of old books at the back of such stores.

In the last few months due to the depressing economy two Used Thing stores have popped up on dirty side streets in Verona.  They are both definitely located beyond the tidy confines of the city’s medieval walls.  I stumbled upon one of these today when I tried a new route to one of the Asian shops – you know the ones that sell synthetic wigs, plantains and tofu.

I couldn’t resist and dragged my indulgent husband inside. These places all smell the same. Along with the dusty mustiness there is that tantalizing scent of adventure.  Well, adventure as defined by a book lover. What did we buy? I consulti, insulti e parenri inconsulti: Medicina e umorismo da Charles Dickens a Woody Allen (“This will be just right for the bathroom,” said my husband) and The Third Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders, who is described by the book jacket as “Mr. Best Seller.”   Yes, I know I am trying to get rid of some of my books….but…I suppose in this world of vices compulsive book buying is pretty tame.

21 March To the Extreme Back of Beyond

Federica picks me up and we head out to the little town of Valdobbiadene in the province of Treviso in the Veneto Region.  The car’s navigational system sends us off on narrow roads. After an hour the sun goes down and most human life is hidden behind dark shutters.  Only slow, slow trucks on the roads.  Phrases like: “the middle of nowhere” and “the back of beyond” form in my rapidly tiring brain.

After another hour and a half we arrive in the town.  There are no human beings on the streets.  Here too the shutters are closed…it is not yet  8 o’clock.  Federica parks.  Light from only one window spills out onto the sidewalk.  Fortunately this is our destination: the Dobladino restaurant.  We are greeted by the chef, Cristian Mometti, his wife and their 6 month old baby girl.  The restaurant is bright and elegantly appointed. Cristian is credited with advancing techniques in Vascottura.  This refers to cooking food in small, sealed glass jars.  This method brings out the fragrances and gives new and interesting textures to the food.  Excellent. www.cristianmometti.it.  Should you find yourself by error or design in Valdobbiadene I urge you to stop at this restaurant.  Seriously good and creative cuisine.

We are here for a presentation and dinner organized by Vini Estremi (www.viniestremi.com), Benedetto Cavalieri Pasta (www.benedettocalvalieri.it) and Jolanda de Colo (makers of foie gras and other gastronomic delights www.jolandadecolo.it ).

The wine that stood out on this occasion was the sparkling Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle (2010) from the Valle d’Aosta Region of Italy.  “We are the last stop on the Italian train system.  After that it’s Mont Blanc in France,” Says Mauro Jaccod, President of Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et del La Salle. (www.caveduvinblanc.com).

The wine is made from 100% Prie Blanc, an indigenous vine that thrives on 20-some hectares in Valle d’Aosta and nowhere else. “Every now and then people ask us for vine starts.  We always send them but so far we have not heard back from anyone.”

The wine is fresh, with a flavor of green apples and a pleasingly bitter finish.  It was superb with small balls of fried snails and baccala mantecato (a creamy dried cod mixture popular in Venice.)

Then home again in Federica’s Music-mobile. I love going places with her because she always fills the car with interesting music.

17 March Bardolino, Gin and Rock and Roll

The highlights:

Enzo Richetti Bardolino Classico 2012 (attractive), Le Fraghe Bardolino 2012 (soft, pulpy cherry fruit), La Ca Bardolino Classico 2012 (nice, decent length), La Ca Bardolino Chiaretto 2012 (vibrant pink, a silky nose raspberry, very satisfying), Costadoro Bardolino Cl. 2012 (clean, fresh, fruit-driven, appealing), Bardolino Chiaretto Classcio 2012 (easy cherry/strawberry fruit).

For me, the best sparkling Chiaretto was from Fulvio Benazzoli (info@benazzoli.com) Bright, well-balanced, acidity and fruit are one. All of a piece. Flavor of wild strawberries and mandarins. Nose and palate are in harmony.

And the most interesting Non-Bardolinos tasted:

Le Vigne di San Pietro 2012 CorDeRosa. 100% Corvina vinified as a rosè. Fine pink, with bluish highlights. A mandarin acidity. A sprinkling of minerals.  Palate follows the nose. Vibrant.

Enantio (a red variety indigenous to the area) made by Roeno was so very interesting.

Roeno 2006 Enantio. 14 degrees alcohol. Fresh, vivid. The color of bruised plums. On the nose balsamic notes, very ripe (near over ripe) cherry on the nose and palate. Interesting knubbly texture.

“It went in all sorts of different directions – but in a nice way,” says Michael.

We go to the hotel at which the other journalists will be staying and take advantage of the wonderful swimming pool…all soft lighting and the restful sound of splashing water.

Then a dinner that includes tandoori chicken – quite exotic fare for Italians.  This is followed by cocktails and wild tribal dancing….ours mainly.

The band is great. (www.p-51.it).  They did covers from the 50s and 60s.   At the end of the evening several people came up to Michael and me and (sincerely) complimented us on our dancing.  Clearly, more people should adhere to the maxim: Dance like there’s no one watching.

The party planner and fabulous trumpet player this evening is Roy Paci (www.etnagigante.com ).

16 March Claudio’s Birthday

We head off to Auntie Leo’s.  Why is a lovely middle-aged woman named Eleonella called Zia Leo by contemporaries to whom she is not related?  Because Ugo’s children called her that when they really were children (as opposed to teenagers) and the rest of us started using the name as a joke and now it has stuck.

Claudio, whose mother is the world’s best cook, made a fabulous fish lasagna.  Spices in perfect balance.  I loved it but I will never make it.  Why? I can’t imagine cleaning bags and bags of mussels and clams and making my own pasta and keeping watch on the sauce for hours and hours.  But boy am I glad there are people in the world who are willing to do all these things!

8 March A return to John Fogerty

I return to find a CD of John Fogerty The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again on my desk. Lovely Fabio at the Carroarmato gave it to me.  I heard it played at the osteria and asked him where he got it because it reminded me of my youth. It is out of print but can be found on e-bay.  What a nice man.  I fear he may leave the osteria because he has been offered a job at an insurance company – no night work there.

7 March Off to Sicily

I am at the train station at 4:30 a.m. waiting for the bus that will take me to the airport.  A train station at that hour is a disturbing place to be. People shuffle by with the slow hesitant stumble of zombies

I meet Alessandra, a very nice rep from the Zonin company, and we board the plane for Catania.  In Catania, a driver picks us up and we travel for around two hours.  The sky threatens rain, the landscape speaks of isolation.  I see no human beings or animals for 45 minutes.  We arrive at Feudo Principi di Butera, one of Zonin’s 10 autonomous estates.  Within its gates the landscape seems tranquil rather than isolated and sunshine seems imminent.

We are greeted by Lili and Lulu, these fine dogs were found abandoned on the road and brought in to the glorious life of Butera winery dogs.  They are very well behaved. Friendly enough but they only show their affectionate enthusiasm if begged to do so.

The other journalists arrive as does the eminent wine consultant and we head for lunch.  It is prepared by a famous chef.  After the 5th exquisitely packaged course I begin to long for food that looks like food and not decorative bathroom tiles or Buddhist funeral tokens.  I should underlined here that the food tasted great, all the ingredients were fresh and well-seasoned.  It’s just…well, sometimes artistic presentation can be carried too far for my tastes.

I sat next to Claudio, the on-site enologist at lunch.

“When does the tasting start?” I ask.

“Four.”

“You can’t taste wine at four o’clock after a long, long lunch.” I say.

“You’re right.  Think of it more as a wine conversation than a wine tasting.”  I like this man.

At three thirty. I begin to wish I could change places with Lulu. How wonderful, I thought, to be sitting in the sun, a cool breeze on my neck, listening to the rosemary scented breeze rustle the palm fronds.  At that moment I have an epiphany: what, I asked myself, was keeping me from doing just what I have described?  Nothing.  I get up from the table and go outside.  Bliss.

At 4:30 the tasting starts. My head is pounding; the 3:45 a.m. wakeup alarm has finally caught up with me and I can barely keep alert.  I am so tired that my head hurts. The idea of tasting 6 or 7 wines does not appeal. I listen to the French wash over me, wishing it were the rustle of palm fronds.

Fortunately, after around half an hour of meditation that I hope the others will take for attentive listening, I feel better and start to taste.  Very nice wines, well made, nice fruit filled finishes.

The two that stood out for me were:

Insolia 2012 (served at lunch)  – soft, apricot-tinged fruit with a fine-net of salinity.  A very nice, satisfying wine.  It costs, I believe, around 7 Euros a bottle.

And the Deliella Nero  d’Avola 2005 This is one of the few wines that can really stand up to and – in fact, enhance truffle shavings. Rich amalgam of raspberries and red berry fruit and a roughness that is not roughness…like raw silk. The knubbly quality is on the nose and palate. A decidedly ripe blueberry note emerges on the palate.  A vibration of fruit follows on the long finish.

How did Zonin choose this particular estate when it decided to buy land in Sicily?  Their head winemaker at the time; Franco Giocosa, had worked for many years in Sicily for a company that bought grapes from many different areas on the island Region and he was an expert on the Nero d’Avola and its site sensitivity.  It was he who suggested that the company buy the then tumbled down property and restore it to its original glory because he knew that the microclimate that was responsible for the most elegant examples of Nero d’Avola were to be found there.

I peppered Wine Consultant (and Professor of Enology at the University of Bordeaux) Denis Dubourdieu during lunch and after the tasting with questions.  My favorite quote:  When asked why his sweet wines sell so well. “Because I try to give pleasure. When I make sweet wines I forget myself, my ego and fame. I am invisible. The technique is invisible. No one knows how the wine is made.”  He lets the wine take center stage. “I try to achieve beauty and, above all else, pleasure. And I try to reach this goal through minimalism and simplicity.”

The staff at Butera refers to him as “The Professor”.

FEBRUARY 2013

Februry 28 The Are Still Alive

The orchids still have most of their blooms…hope springs eternal.

 

February 27 A Chievo Soccer Club Fan Dinner

I love Chievo Calcio Club fan dinners because they are so sweetly old-fashioned, the other fans are nice and the players are kind and generous with their time.

Around 60 fans meet at a suburban pizzeria for dinner.  A television set behind the main table plays continuous funny animal videos.  My pal Annalisa, who is facing the set, becomes hypnotized by the animal antics.  The players on hand are Cristian Puggioni (goalkeeper) and Roberto Guana (mid-fielder and Mr. Congeniality).

Cristian, addressing the fans before dinner says:  “Thank you for letting me be part of this miracle that is Chievo,”

After dinner there is always a raffle.  When the raffle had not started by 10:30 Annalisa says to her ward Mario:  “Go up and tell the organizers that this is a school night.”  Within minutes the prize drawing began.   Mario wins a player’s shirt and gives it to his best friend.

Yes, I love going to these dinners because they are like going back in time.

 

February 22 A Sparkling Gala

A few months ago I was a judge at an international sparkling wine (Champagne Method) tasting sponsored by Euposia Magazine.  Tonight we are gathered at the Antico Caffe Dante to dine and award major prizes.  The Big Surprise Winner of the top prize is Ancre Hill Estates in Wales (yes, Wales) for its simply superb 2008 Brut made from Seyval Blanc. The wine has a firm, intriguing texture and fine full fruit (apricots) that continues to evolve on the long finish. The owner of the estate Richard Morris and his wife Joy are on hand to pick up their prize – a huge blown-glass sculpture. www.ancrehillestates.co.uk  By the way he only makes 3000 bottles of this wine and it goes fast.  However, should you find yourself in Wales I beg you to try wines from this estate.

 

February 19 Into the Jungle

The orchids are beginning to look peaky and Bud lost a flower.  I move them to the bathroom – the nearest thing we have to a tropical rain forest – and hope for the best.

 

February  17  A tasting lesson with my student 

We open a bottle of LBV 1986 Port from our collection of bottles.  Michael has had it for so long he no longer remembers who the producer is.

Rich tawny, clear rim. Warm and inviting on the nose and palate. A slight note of rust on the nose…indicative of age, Creamy texture of fine Port. Firm fruitiness.   On the palate, an idea of figs and dried cherries (sour prunes).   A long finish, filled with evolving flavor and narrowing into the flavor of warm fresh hazelnuts. A vibration of rich fruit on the palate. The fig note emerges more strongly on the finish.

Quinta do Noval LBV 2004 Very deep near black color with ruby sheen. Round cherry fruit lifts out of the glass. It tastes tired…perhaps from having been opened a while ago.

The 1986 is a much, much finer wine.

 

February 14 Valentine’s Day with Morello in Bussalengo (whose patron saint is…)

A visit to the medieval church dedicated to St. Valentine.  Maurizio Ferron makes kiwi risotto. A visit to Flover, a huge garden center and one of Italy’s premier purveyors of orchids.  The kind owner of the shop gives us each a small orchid.  His colleague and bona fide orchid expert says: “Orchids are practically indestructible.  You have to really try hard in order to kill an orchid.”  I hold up my hand and say: “I’ve managed to kill two.”  Others look furtive then confess that they too have never managed to keep an orchid going.  The expert repeats his assertion that they are impossible to kill.  We name our orchids Bud and Val and hope for the best.

At home I open a bottle of the best Bardolino I have ever tasted.  2011 Le Vigne di San Pietro. It is fruity and satisfying, truly strides ahead of the competition.

 I am rereading Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (the Brian Hooker translation) and came upon this bit of perfection:

And what is a kiss, when all is done?

A promise given under seal—a vow

Taken before the shrine of memory—

A signature acknowledged—a rosy dot

Over the i of Loving—a secret whispered

To listening lips apart—a moment made

Immortal, with a rush of wings unseen—

A sacrament of blossoms, a new song

Sung by two hearts to an old simple tune—

The ring of one horizon around two souls

Together, all alone!

And this exchange between  Cyrano and Roxane as he is dying:

Cyrano: The leaves—

Roxane: What color—

Perfect Venetian red! Look at them fall.

Cyrano: Yes—they know how to die. A little way

From the branch to the earth, a little fear

Of mingling with the common dust—and yet

They go down gracefully—a fall that seems

Like flying!